The Independent Archive: Indian village justice fails a lowly beauty

9 September 1989 Tony Allen-Mills, in Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, describes a case which highlights the failure of the legal system to protect the rural poor

IF SHE hadn't been so lovely she might have lived. But Nayeema was a rare beauty, a slender, dark-skinned teenager with haunting sable eyes and a fine figure that the loose folds of her ragged sari could not disguise. One day Nayeema went to bathe at a hand-pump near her parents' mud-walled shack in the isolated Uttar Pradesh village of Sikri. The water splashed down her throat and soaked the sari to her skin.

That innocent, alluring moment was to lead to Nayeema's death. It set in motion a heartbreaking sequence of events that tore a simple Muslim villager from the obscurity of rural penury and plunged her into the centre of a national debate about Indian justice.

With a general election approaching, the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, has already pledged to revise India's overloaded legal system to protect the poor in rural areas. With his eye on the millions of women who will be casting votes in village polls, Mr Gandhi confessed last week: "One cannot honestly claim that justice is available in villages at the grass- roots level . . . in the coming years we have to see that justice is done." Such pledges have been heard before. For Nayeema, the bewitching 16-year-old daughter of a hard-working farm labourer, they were all in vain.

As Nayeema was washing off the dust at the Sikri hand-pump last March, she spotted a peeping Tom. It was a neighbour, a man named Sattar. According to Nayeema's mother, Zamila Begum Islamuddin, there was an angry exchange. Nayeema told Sattar not to spy on her again. Although only 16, she had been married for two years to a man from a nearby village. She had returned to Sikri to pay a short visit to her mother. A few days later seven men, three carrying guns, arrived at her mother's house. Zamila recognised one of them as Abbas, a relative of Sattar. She named three others as Manga, Pulender and Moti, all from Negala Duheli. They ordered Zamila to prepare food, then left with Nayeema. Zamila never saw her daughter again.

The mother went to the police, and some of the men were arrested. But they were swiftly released. The family began to suspect the kidnappers enjoyed official protection. Some of them were friendly with Sayeed ul- Rahaman, the village pradhan, or head man. He was linked to Sayeed ul- Zama, the Home Minister for Uttar Pradesh state. Sikri was part of Mr ul-Zama's constituency. There were even rumours that Nayeema was being kept for Mr ul-Zama's use.

Weeks passed with no word. Then Nayeema's father attracted the support of Mahendra Singh Tikait, the leader of a regional farmers' union. Last year Mr Tikait led 100,000 protesting farmers to New Delhi for a two-week protest. When his followers marched at a town near Sikri in early August, the police responded with a baton charge and pushed two tractors into an irrigation canal. The farmers were incensed and, finally, five months after her disappearance, Nayeema's name was on every newspaper's front page.

Nine days later, the girl's body was found dumped in a field. She was dressed in a bridal sari and had a bullet hole through her neck. Attached to her wristwatch was a letter from her killers. It said she had been killed because her kidnappers were afraid of retaliation by Mr Tikait's farmers. After a cursory police examination Nayeema's body was released for cremation. At a poignant ceremony attended by 100,000 farmers, her ashes were placed inside a brick memorial built by Mr Tikait's supporters.

The response of Mr ul-Zama, the minister initially responsible for investigating the case, blamed Mr Tikait for starting his agitation. He suggested Nayeema would have lived had the farmers not made the kidnapping a national issue. He also denied he was involved.

Mr Tikait and his farmers continue to demonstrate daily beside Nayeema's tomb. But other issues beckon, and interest in the case is fading. Police are officially conducting inquiries, but the men identified by Zamila remain free. No one in Nayeema's family holds out much hope of justice. They cling to memories of her loveliness and move on with their lives. It was just another murder in the Indian countryside.

From the Foreign News pages of `The Independent', Saturday 9 September 1989

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory